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Community Policing

10. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): What recent assessment she has made of the role of police community support officers in supporting community beat managers. [275720]

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): In performing that role as part of neighbourhood policing teams, PCSOs offer valuable support to their community beat managers. The PCSO review, published in 2008, and the policing Green Paper were both broadly supportive of the PCSO role. In addition, the 2006 evaluation of PCSOs found that they had a key role to play in neighbourhood policing, and their provision of reassurance and visibility was welcomed by local communities.

Mr. Hoyle: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that PCSOs have a role to play—as he says, an important role—in backing up policing? Will he ensure that we do not see PCSOs replacing real bobbies as a way of saving money?

Mr. Coaker: We of course understand the fact that there is a real difference between PCSOs and full-time warranted police officers, and we want to maintain that distinction, but my hon. Friend is also right to point out that PCSOs—integrated particularly in neighbourhood policing teams, working side by side with warranted police officers, specials and, indeed, neighbourhood wardens—make a huge contribution to keeping communities safe and reassuring people out and about in different communities.

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DNA Database

11. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): What factors her Department took into account in deciding on the options of retaining DNA samples for six and 12 years in its consultation on the national DNA database. [275721]

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): We will be retaining samples for a maximum of six months, after which time they will be destroyed whether the person is convicted or not. On DNA profiles, the public consultation paper “Keeping the Right People on the DNA database”, published on 7 May 2009, sets out our proposals and the thinking behind them. Our approach is supported by evidence on the propensity to offend, which indicates that there is a span of four to 15 years within which retention periods can be justified.

Our key consideration is implementing the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of S and Marper in a way that balances the need to protect the public with the need to safeguard the rights of the individual.

Andrew Stunell: Will the Minister not act to remove immediately from the DNA database those who have been falsely accused? I draw to his attention the case of my 50-year-old constituent who challenged a group of unruly youths and faced false accusations. His DNA is now stuck on that database for ever. Can the Minister not assure the House that those falsely accused will be taken off the DNA database and the Court’s ruling complied with immediately?

Mr. Coaker: I do not know the particular case that the hon. Gentleman refers to, but of course people can appeal to a chief constable to be taken off the DNA database, and indeed new guidance will be prepared to try to ensure that people in certain situations, perhaps such as the situation that he refers to, will be able to get their DNA taken off the database.

Topical Questions

T1. [275734] Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): The Government continue to make progress against the threat that drugs pose to communities and families. Since publishing the drug strategy in February last year, we have made record numbers of drug seizures in England and Wales, we have seized more of the cash and assets of criminals and we have helped more people than ever before to access drug treatment. We have seen overall drug use fall to its lowest level since British crime survey measurements started, and we have seen drug-related crime fall, but we will continue to build on that progress and respond to emerging threats. That is why I will be launching a public consultation on the control of GBL later this month. As tragically shown by the recent death of Hester Stewart, controls are necessary to prevent the use of such precursor chemicals, and we will work to determine the best controls of that substance.

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Richard Ottaway: The Home Secretary goes on about her drugs policy at length, but is she aware of the damning indictment of it by the Centre for Policy Studies? It said:

When will the Government adopt the Conservative party’s proposals, and stop managing addiction and instead focus on its root causes?

Jacqui Smith: There are many inaccuracies in the report that the hon. Gentleman refers to. Overall, drug use is at its lowest level since measurements through the BCS began. As I said, we have seized more cash and assets in the past year than ever before. We made a record 216,792 drug seizures in England and Wales in the past year, and the Serious Organised Crime Agency seized more than 90 tonnes of class A drugs. We have seen the wholesale price of cocaine rise as a result of the impact of its work. We have got more support and treatment to young people than ever before and helped more people to access drug treatment, with more than 200,000 people now able to do so. We have also introduced well regarded campaigns to tackle drug use, and we are considering how to reform drugs education in our schools. That is a comprehensive list of progress.

T2. [275736] Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): One organisation that has been actively campaigning against settlement rights for the brave Gurkha soldiers is the odious British National party, which is circulating a leaflet defacing the image of the recently fallen Corporal Kumar Pun, a man who gave his life for this country. Does the Minister agree that it is high time that the Gurkha settlement issue was resolved in favour of the historic debt of honour that this country owes Corporal Pun and his comrades?

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): I thank my hon. Friend for his question and repeat the assurance that we gave the House on 29 April that we are working on new proposals. I am grateful to the Home Affairs Committee, of which my hon. Friend is a member, for its facilitation of that discussion.

On the British National party, all of us in the House would recognise that the increased scrutiny of that party is now exposing the true nature of its policies. I imagine that we would all wish to condemn wholeheartedly its policy of instructing its members not to describe people as being “black British” or “British Asian”, and its comments regarding the footballers Ferdinand, Walcott and James as not being English,

T3. [275737] Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) about DNA samples, may I ask whether the Minister really thinks it appropriate to keep samples for six or 12 years, given that the European Court of Human Rights has lauded the Scottish model in which no samples from innocent people are kept except samples from those who have been acquitted of a sexual or violent offence, which are kept for three years? Why do we not adopt that model?

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The hon. Gentleman’s question gives me another opportunity to put on record the Government’s categorical statement that we will not
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retain samples, which are genetic material, for longer than six months. As for profiles, to which I think he is referring, we know that keeping the profiles of those who have been arrested will enable us to solve crimes in the future. That is a proportionate approach.

If the hon. Gentleman reads what was actually said in the European Court judgment, he will find that the objection was to the indiscriminate, blanket nature of our policy, and that keeping DNA from those who had been arrested was not considered necessarily to be wrong.

T5. [275739] Christine Russell (City of Chester) (Lab): Most people find the presence of CCTV in their neighbourhoods reassuring, and most police officers find them very helpful in assisting the detection of crime and the reduction of antisocial behaviour. However, there is also a strong view out there that they can result in a real invasion of an individual’s personal liberty. Has the Department commissioned, or will it consider commissioning, a fully independent survey of the effectiveness of CCTV cameras?

Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend has raised an important point about the balance between the rights of the individual and the protection of the community. The Home Office is examining the way in which we manage CCTV systems throughout the country, and also the possibility of establishing a national CCTV board.

According to a recent report from the Campbell Collaboration crime and justice group, CCTV has

The report says that it is most effective in reducing crime in car parks and targeting vehicle crime, and that it is more effective in reducing crime in the United Kingdom than in other countries. I think that that is an endorsement of CCTV, but we must of course consider the impact on the privacy of the individual as well.

T4. [275738] Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): In south Manchester we face the prospect of losing PC Steve Hobson as our crime reduction adviser. Steve has done more than any other police officer in Manchester to help combat crime. Will the Minister join me in supporting the Save Our Steve campaign, which aims to persuade Greater Manchester police to keep Steve on after his 30 years of service?

Jacqui Smith: It is officers such as PC Steve Hobson who—particularly through neighbourhood policing teams—are helping communities all over the country to feel more confident and helping to make crime fall, and it is the actions of this Government that have ensured that there are 14,000 more police constables like Steve Hobson across the country now. Our difficulty is that Conservative Members have steadfastly refused to commit themselves to safeguarding those numbers.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): We all understand that we need the strictest possible border controls to deal with immigration, but can my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration offer any reassurance to a constituent of mine who holds dual nationality that if she leaves this country using her New Zealand passport she will not encounter any difficulties, or any threat of deportation, when trying to return here using her British passport?

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Mr. Woolas: I can do my best to give that reassurance. Certainly no aspect of policy should produce a problem. However, I am sure that if there is a problem, my hon. Friend, as a hard-working Member of Parliament, will be on the phone to me immediately. Her question also gives me an opportunity to reassure her about the merits of the border control policy, including the electronic borders that now count people in and out of our country, and I ask all Members to support us in that endeavour.

T6. [275740] Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): Owners of weapons deactived prior to 1995 hold certificates to say that they are, in fact, non-weapons, and only a handful of crimes have been committed in reactivating the “deacs”—the deactivated weapons. Would not Government time be better spent in tackling illegal gun sales than in trying to penalise law-abiding members of the community further?

Jacqui Smith: I believe that we need to do both. That is why we have taken action, not least internationally through the Serious Organised Crime Agency and with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, to tackle the import of guns, and why we are working with the National Ballistics Intelligence Service—NABIS—and its database in order to be able to track guns and where they come from more clearly. It is also why we will take action against deactivated firearms and why we have had a 16 per cent. fall in gun crime over the last year.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Why is the Home Office still proposing to retain the DNA profiles of innocent people for six years? Is the Secretary of State aware of correspondence that I and many others have sent to the Department about entirely innocent people who have been not only not convicted, but not even charged with any offence, and who believe that the march of the state and the surveillance society must be stopped, and that this is a very good place to start?

Mr. Coaker: As I said to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), the European Court judgment actually said that the indiscriminate blanket nature of the retention of DNA was the issue and that that meant we were in breach of our human rights obligations. It did not say that we should not keep any DNA on arrest. As a result of the consultation we brought forward last week the Government have given a proportionate response to the judgment of the courts as we try to balance retaining DNA with our ability to solve crime. We have all seen that the retention on the DNA database of the DNA of those arrested but not convicted has led to a large number of crimes being solved that otherwise would have remained unsolved, including rapes and murders. That is something the right hon. Gentleman must also consider.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Further to the earlier question from the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) about police community support officers, what is the Government’s policy on Neighbourhood Watch? Does it have a role to play in the fight against crime, and if so, what support are the Government giving it?

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Jacqui Smith: Neighbourhood Watch has a fundamental role to play alongside the neighbourhood policing teams that are now in every community in this country. That is why we are investing an extra £1 million to help Neighbourhood Watch maintain that important role, alongside that performed by increased numbers of police officers and of PCSOs.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The Secretary of State will know that the vast majority of police officers and PCSOs in the West Mercia police area, and also those covering Shropshire, are hard-working and dedicated. Will she therefore give a commitment to the House today that there will be no cuts in front-line officers in the next financial year?

Jacqui Smith: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the police officers in West Mercia do a very good job, which is why crime has come down in his area and in mine. I have given a commitment to maintain our increased funding for the police grant, which will enable us at least to maintain police numbers. Unfortunately, the shadow Home Secretary has refused to give me a commitment that his spending plans, which would have reduced spending to the equivalent of about 3,500 police officers this year, would not be instituted. I can give a commitment to maintain police funding; the hon. Gentleman’s Front-Bench colleagues cannot.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Home Secretary refers to police numbers, but it is no good having policemen if they are not out on the beat. Why is it that under her Government the amount of time the police spend on the beat is falling? In my county it is down to 10 per cent.

Jacqui Smith: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but that is just wrong. Not only do we have—

Mr. Bone: It is not wrong!

Jacqui Smith: Ooh!

Not only do we have more police officers and a funding commitment that the hon. Gentleman’s party has signally failed to match, but, through cutting bureaucracy and providing handheld computers, we have more police officers and more PCSOs with more time to spend on their duties, which is why we continue to see crime in this country falling.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): May I thank the Government for their action over the past 10 years on Gurkhas’ resettlement rights, while encouraging them to ensure that their new proposals are much more generous and give the necessary concessions? Will those proposals be implemented in time for us to celebrate them during the armed forces celebration day on 27 June?

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman, like the rest of the House, will have to be patient. As I said on 29 April and as has been said in evidence to the Select Committee, we are putting in place new proposals to move towards the point that was made by the House in that debate, and I am optimistic.

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Speaker’s Statement

3.30 pm

Mr. Speaker: I would like to make a statement on Members’ allowances. We all know that it is the tradition of this House that the Speaker speaks to the whole House, but in doing so please allow me to say to the men and women of the United Kingdom that we have let you down very badly indeed. We must all accept blame and, to the extent that I have contributed to the situation, I am profoundly sorry. Now, each and every Member, including myself, must work hard to regain your trust.

As a matter of urgency, and within 48 hours, I am calling the Prime Minister and party leaders, including those of the minority parties, to meet me and the other members of the House of Commons Commission. Also present will be the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig).

Leaders of all parties have made announcements on what should be done. Some of their proposals are very similar to those put to the House on 3 July last year by the Members Estimate Committee—which I chair—copies of which are lodged in the Vote Office. I want discussion to centre on the additional costs allowance and all those matters that have caused the greatest controversy and most anger with the public, and I include in that the early publication of the additional costs allowance, office costs and travel material.

While we await the work of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, we must search for agreement, so that the Leader of the House can bring forward resolutions to give an opportunity for the House to deal with the immediate situation. In the meantime, I do urge all hon. Members not to submit claims for approval. Last week, I had a most productive meeting with Sir Christopher Kelly, who explained to me his hopes to bring forward reasoned proposals in the autumn. While we await the outcome of his work, it is imperative that we continue to improve our accounts and practice in the interim, and get in place measures that work and are seen to be working. I say again that we all bear a heavy responsibility for the terrible damage to the reputation of this House. We must do everything we possibly can to regain the trust and confidence of the people.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: I call Mr. Prentice.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A motion of no confidence in you, Sir, will appear on the Order Paper tomorrow. Am I right in thinking that it will be debated tomorrow and voted upon?

Mr. Speaker: This is not a point of order—

Mr. Prentice: Oh yes it is—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Please allow me to answer. These are matters for debate on an appropriate motion.

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